After the Celtics' season came to a halt Sunday night with a 125-113 loss to the Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the players acknowledged they’d let a wonderful opportunity slip away. But the hurt did not seem to be accompanied by any sense of finality.
“This is our first year together, so we’re going to have some time to grow,” point guard Kemba Walker said. “It’s going to be a fun group over the next couple of years.”
Boston’s roster has been constantly reshaped during coach Brad Stevens’s tenure, even in seasons when it appeared there would be stability. There was the stunning trade that sent Isaiah Thomas to the Cavaliers in the Kyrie Irving deal, and then there was last summer’s surprise, when Irving and Al Horford both decided to leave despite the franchise’s hopes that they would stay.
There will be changes during this offseason, because there are always changes. But all indications are that it should be one of the more stable periods of the Stevens era. Boston, which fell two wins short of the NBA Finals, has two young building blocks in forward Jayson Tatum and forward/guard Jaylen Brown, a foundation most teams dream about.
But Tatum leads the NBA in minutes per game this postseason and Brown is fifth, and the Celtics' reliance on the top of their roster revealed the need for reliable bench help. Boston is over the salary cap and its options will be limited, but even with minor tweaks it should have enough to once again challenge for the conference crown.
Tatum’s rookie-scale extension will be president of basketball operations Danny Ainge’s top offseason priority. Tatum is eligible for a five-year extension that will likely pay him about $160 million. No other team will be able to offer him that many years or that much money if he hits the open market as an unrestricted free agent after next season. Young stars such as Ben Simmons, Devin Booker, and Jamal Murray, who previously inked max extension contracts, are a good indicator that Tatum’s deal will ultimately be finalized, too.
“I’m not even thinking about that,” Tatum said after Sunday’s loss. “I’ll think about the great season we had, the great players, great job by everyone. It was a hell of a year and I enjoyed it. I appreciate everybody. This was fun. I’m not really thinking about the other stuff right now.”
Brown, meanwhile, signed a four-year, $103 million extension last fall, a deal that now looks like a bargain for the Celtics following his All-Star-caliber year.
Walker has three years left on the max deal he signed last summer. Although he was named an All-Star starter for the second consecutive season, real concerns about his lingering left knee pain emerged. His offseason will be focused on regaining strength in the leg so the pain does not become a recurring issue.
Forward Gordon Hayward has a $32.7 million player option for the final season of his four-year max deal. This was another injury-riddled campaign for the former All-Star, and he will almost certainly never command a salary that high in his career again. Opting in would be his safest play, but he could also work with the Celtics on a longer-term deal at a lower average annual salary.
Guard Marcus Smart has two seasons remaining on the four-year, $52 million deal he signed in the summer of 2018.
Center Daniel Theis, who emerged as a dependable starting center this season after backing up Aron Baynes and Horford the previous two years, has a $5 million non-guaranteed year that the Celtics are all but certain to pick up at that price.
Theis’s primary backup, Enes Kanter, has a $5 million player option, and the outlook there is less obvious. Kanter averaged 8.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in just 16.9 minutes per game. He showed value as an offensive rebounder but frequently fell out of the rotation because of his defense. He played just 42 minutes over 13 games in the conference semifinals and finals.
Kanter could seek a larger payday and more playing time elsewhere, or the Celtics might just indicate to him that they don’t see him contributing next year, with Robert Williams potentially in line to take the next step in his development. Williams’s $2 million team option will be exercised, and rookie Grant Williams returns as perhaps the most dependable piece of Boston’s backup frontcourt rotation.
Backup point guard Brad Wanamaker is an unrestricted free agent. Stevens constantly gushed about Wanamaker this season and clearly liked having a veteran backup he could trust. Wanamaker even led the NBA in free throw percentage. But he could seek a bigger salary elsewhere, or Boston could simply opt to go in a different direction.
Although the start date for 2020-21 season remains unclear, rookie guard/forward Romeo Langford could miss at least the start of it as he recovers from his recent wrist surgery. This was mostly a lost year for Langford because of nagging injuries and depth at his position, but the Celtics remain hopeful about his potential.
Forward Semi Ojeleye has a manageable $1.8 million team option that will likely keep him around for another season. Ojeleye’s 3-point shooting improved this year and Stevens still trusts him as a defender on athletic frontcourt players, even if he has yet to carve out a consistent rotation spot.
Forward Javonte Green’s contract is non-guaranteed next year. He defied the odds to make the final roster after joining Boston’s summer league team last season, but it seems unlikely he will be back. Rookie guard Carsen Edwards’s salary is guaranteed next season. The Celtics clearly had high hopes for the second-round pick, as evidenced by the four-year deal they gave him, but after a strong preseason showing this year he was a disappointment.
Center Vincent Poirier’s $2.6 million salary is fully guaranteed, and the Celtics will have to seriously consider just moving on from the French big man anyway, either as trade filler or by waiving him. Two-way contract players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall are in line to be restricted free agents.
The Celtics also own the 14th, 26th, 30th and 47th picks in the draft on Nov. 18.